Interview: Eight Minutes with Ringo Starr
By Brian Ives
July 7, 2014
Ringo Starr doesn’t actually like being interviewed. He will cut the interview short if he doesn’t like the line of questioning, which especially includes asking too many Beatles questions. He’s much happier just having a conversation. Alas, on a day off from his latest All-Starr Band tour, he’s at the Soho Contemporary Art Gallery in New York City to talk about his computer generated artwork, which he’s been working on since about 2005. His art promotes his all-but trademarked message of — you guessed it — peace and love.
In fact, his mantra of “peace and love” is so well-known at this point, that when he saunters into the gallery he asks the group of journalists setting up, “What do you say?” and everyone answers back with — you guessed it — “peace and love.”
How do you interview a Beatle in just eight minutes? Very carefully. Along with his digital art, Ringo rhapsodized about the current iteration of the All-Starr Band, which includes Todd Rundgren (guitar, vocals), Toto‘s Steve Lukather (guitar, vocals), Mr. Mister‘s Richard Page (bass, vocals), founding Santana and Journey-man Gregg Rolie (keyboards and vocals), Gregg Bissonette (drums) and Warren Ham (saxophone, keyboards, vocals).
Other than Ham, the band has been playing together since 2012, a lengthy amount of time by All-Starr standards considering Ringo usually shuffles the deck on his bands after one tour. But he seems to be having a great time with these guys, and with life in general these days. He didn’t even seem to mind speaking on the record this time around.
Ringo Starr (Steve Pellegrino for Radio.com)
Radio.com: I love the imagery of the gun with the nozzle tied in a knot, it kind of says everything. Where did that image come from?
That’s not mine – that’s Nonviolence’s [an organization dedicated to ending violence]. It’s out there already and they asked me to participate. Nonviolence is like “peace and love,” so I’m all for it! They sent the image, I’d taken bits and bobs of a lot of [prior art] stuff I’d done, and decorated it until I thought it looked good. We support Nonviolence.
You’ve created a lot of prints using the same vintage photo of yourself.
It’s the only stencil we’ve done so far. I’ve gotten into stencils now. This image sort of works. Neal Glaser is the guy who develops this and gets it all together, he has ideas and they put things together for me, and I say “That one’s good,” “No, I don’t want that,” “that’s great.” That’s how we do that.
When was that photo taken?
I would say 1965 at a guess, and [the hat] didn’t have the star on it, I put that there.
I interviewed you a few years ago, and you talked a lot about being “a band guy.”
I do, I’ve always enjoyed being in bands, that’s where I play.
I was at your show the other night; you seemed to be having a blast playing drums. But it was surprising to see you playing the cajón when Richard Page sang Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings.”
Well, that came from Mark Rivera [the All-Starr Band's saxophonist/musical director, currently playing in Billy Joel's backing band]. We let Richard Page do that song, and there was nothing for me to do. So Mark had a guy who had cajóns, and he brought one in, and it’s become part of the act. Cajóns are in!
You’ve been releasing a new album every other year lately. Are you working on a new album, and are any of the current All-Starrs going to be on it?
Well, Steve Lukather’s on my new record, which I’m making, and Richard Page is on the record also. That’s it from this band.
Are you working with a producer on the album?
I produced the last three myself [2008's Liverpool 8, 2010's Y Not and 2012's Ringo 2012]. The first one I was like, I started it and I called a producer to come in, I was a bit insecure, and I said, “Come and help me, I’ll call you later.” And then I called and said, “Look, I’m having too much fun!” It was my first try at producing and since then I’ve been producing myself.
The BBC recently announced that they will be featuring more country music programming. You’ve been a country music fan for a long time: your second solo album, Beaucoups of Blues, was country music. Were a lot of people into country music when you were growing up?
It was a big thing in Liverpool. Liverpool is the capital of country music in Britain. Because it was a port, so all the guys in the merchant navy… in our neighborhood every other house there was someone in the Merchant Navy, and they were bringing all the records from America, so we had great country, great blues and great rock and roll. We were getting the first printings of rock and roll records that no one had ever heard.
You’ve mentioned wanting to do a country version of the All-Starr Band. Are you still thinking about doing that?
I’m still thinking of that, it’s still open, whichever way I want to go, it’s open. But I love this band so much. We’ll probably play the moon, we’ve run out of places to play on earth. I just keep going to places to keep the band rocking.
I’m sure you’re aware that EDM is a huge music genre these days. Do you think that the art of drumming is in danger, when it’s so easy to program beats?
It’s not being lost in our house. I’m a drummer. I love to play drums, it was the fantasy, the dream, from when I was 13, I just wanted to play, so my dream keeps unfolding.
Steve Lukather, Warren Ham and Ringo Starr (New York’s Beacon Theatre)(photo credit: Maria Ives)
Who are some of your favorite current drummers?
I never listen to a track for the drums, I never did. I listen to the track for the track. There’s a lot of incredible drummers out there, but I’m never listening for the drummer.
At the Beatles tribute concert in January, you called out to Dave Grohl from the stage, and said, “Is that your daughter? She’s beautiful!” It struck me that you and he have a bit in common: you both joined bands that got huge, later became frontmen, and get to play with rotating casts of great musicians. And that you’re both always happy. What’s the secret?
The drums make you happy. If you’re ever feeling sad, lonely, or afraid, bang the drum, you’ll feel great! It’s therapy.
On July 13, AXS will air a tribute to you, recorded earlier this year, which features Ben Harper, Ben Folds and Brendan Benson. Have you thought about doing a ’90s version of the All-Starr Band?
No. I don’t think like that, I think, “Who is free? Who is interested?” People call me, people call management, word gets around. And I end up with a stack of records of their work and I listen to the music, and I say, “Oh, I need a guitarist.” And I put it together like that. On the first day [of rehearsal], a lot of them I’ve never met! And you wonder which way it’s gonna go. But with this band, it’s all gone great.
When you were promoting Ringo 2012, you were using Ben Harper and his band as your backing group. Would you work with him again?
We wrote a song ["Spilling Faith/Get Here From There" from Harper's Give 'Til It's Gone]. He’s got his own band. I’d never have a problem with having Ben in my band if he’s free!
Ringo Starr and the All-Starr Band are on tour through mid-July; check his website for dates. Get more information about his art at RingoStarrArt.com.